For Immediate Release
ACLU and Human Rights Watch Report Calls On South Carolina and Alabama to Stop Segregating Prisoners With HIV
Conditions in HIV Units Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading
WASHINGTON - Alabama and South Carolina should immediately end their
policies of segregating prisoners with HIV from the rest of the
population, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights
Watch concluded in a report released today. According to the report,
prisoners in designated HIV units in both states face stigma, harassment
and systemic discrimination that amount to inhuman and degrading
The 45-page report, "Sentenced to Stigma,"
reveals that prisoners in the HIV units are forced to wear armbands or
other indicators of their HIV status, are forced to eat and even worship
separately and are denied equal participation in prison jobs, programs
and re-entry opportunities that facilitate their successful transition
back into society.
"There is no medical or other justification for
separating prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population,"
said Megan McLemore, health researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Like past
policies of racial segregation, segregating prisoners with HIV is
discriminatory, and the harm it causes extends well beyond the person's
Last month, after reviewing preliminary findings
of the report, Mississippi ended its longstanding policy of segregating
prisoners with HIV, leaving South Carolina and Alabama as the last
states in the United States to maintain such policies. South Carolina is
also the only state in the union to prohibit prisoners with HIV from
participating in work release programs.
The report highlights the mental suffering of
prisoners forced to disclose their HIV status. In many cases, other
prisoners send the news back to these prisoners' home communities,
resulting in anguished letters from family members who had been unaware
of the prisoner's HIV status.
"Involuntary public disclosure of anyone's HIV
status can be devastating," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of
the ACLU National Prison Project. "But the consequences in the closed
environment of a prison can be particularly severe - especially if
prison officials impose a segregation policy, which only enflames
prejudices against people with HIV."
Alabama and South Carolina prison officials
contend that segregation is necessary to provide medical care and to
prevent HIV transmission. But there are other ways to accomplish these
goals without denying prisoners their rights, according to the report.
The other 48 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons provide medical
care for prisoners with HIV without resorting to segregation.
"HIV prevention can and should be managed with
information and risk-reduction programs - not with stigma and
isolation," said Winter.
Prisoners with HIV segregated from the rest of
the prison population are routinely denied opportunities other prisoners
have to shorten their prison stays and assist their transition into
society, the report finds. In Alabama, for example, prisoners with HIV
are ineligible for faith-based or honor dorms and for residential drug
treatment or pre-release programs that are linked to support groups in
In South Carolina, prisoners with HIV are
ineligible for elite jobs that are earned through good behavior and are
looked upon favorably by the parole board. Solely because of their HIV
status, prisoners in South Carolina with sentences as short as 90 days
must serve their sentences at the maximum security facility at Broad
River, a more violent, more expensive facility that also houses death
The World Health Organization, the National
Commission on Correctional Health Care and other experts agree there is
no medical basis for segregating prisoners with HIV within correctional
facilities or for limiting access to jobs, education or vocational
programs available to others.
Nevertheless, in Alabama and South Carolina, the
report says, prisoners with HIV are barred from working in the kitchen, a
job that assists prisoners with employment after they return to society
and which, in South Carolina, earns extra "good time" credits toward
early release. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says
that there is no medical basis for precluding persons with HIV from
kitchen- or food-service-employment.
"Segregating prisoners with HIV sends a message
to other prisoners, to staff and even to the outside community that
discrimination is okay," said McLemore. "Segregation is also bad public
policy when prisoners are denied opportunities that will help them
become productive citizens when they are released."
A copy of the report is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/
Additional information about the ACLU South
Carolina Office is available online at: www.aclusouthcarolina.org
Additional information about the ACLU National
Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison
Additional information about Human Rights Watch
reporting on health and human rights is available online at: www.hrw.org/en/health